F  i  s  h    A  n  a  t  o  m  y

{short description of image}
Body Shape Generally fish are "torpedo shaped" with rounded nose, a thicker middle and a tapered tail. The shape of the fishes body is very important to how it swims. Fish with round bodies are good swimmers; fish with shorter bodies can turn quickly.

The Head of the fish has its mouth, nostrils and gill cover. The gills (found under the gill covers) allow the fish to breath. As water moves over the surface of the gills, oxygen is absorbed - like lungs in land creatures.

Scales protect the fish from its environment. They overlap like shingles on a roof so that the skin of the fish is not exposed. As a fish grows, their scales produce "rings" much like a tree - and that is one way scientists can tell how old a fish is. Most fish get extra protection from a layer of slime that covers their scales. This slime helps them move through the water better, and keeps pests off of the fish skin.

The Lateral Line is how the fish "hears". It is sensitive to pressure, vibration, movement and sound and lets the fish know what is in the water around them.

Fins help the fish swim. The large muscles of the body actually do most of the work, but the fins help with balance and turning. In some fish the fins are large and spiney and help protect the fish from its predators who do not want a mouthful of sharp spears!                                           

External Anatomy

    Every hobbyist should try to acquaint themselves with the external anatomy of the fish they keep. The names of various fins and parts of the body are constantly occurring in the description of the species. I will try to help with the identification and definition of the various fish parts in the following section.


    The fins are made up of stiff rays covered by skin. Some may be jointed and some separate near the edge of the fin. In certain fish, some of the rays supporting the fins are bony, stiff, and unjointed. They are referred to as spines. Almost half the fin rays in the Dorsal fin of Cichlids are bony spines. So the front (Anterior) portion of such a fin is called the Spiney Dorsal and the rear (Posterior) portion is called the Soft Dorsal.  In Gobies and some other species the Spiny Dorsal and the Soft Dorsal are completely separated and form two distinct Dorsal Fins. The number of rays in the fin is also used in classification.

Fin Functions

    Each fin on a fish is designed to perform a specific function. I will list them here.

  1. Dorsal fin. Lends stability in swimming.

  2. Ventral fin. Serves to provide stability in swimming.

  3. Caudal fin. In most fish, the Caudal or tail fin is the main propelling fin.

  4. Anal fin. Also lends stability in swimming.

  5. Pectoral fins. Locomotion and side to side movement.

  6. Adipose fin. Stability.


    The skin of fish is divided into two layers, the Epidermis (outer) layer and the Dermis. The Epidermis is made up of Epithelial cells, arranged one above the other. These cells are constantly shed and replaced with new ones. Inter-spaced between the Epithelial cells are slime cells which produce Mucoid secretions that form the very important protective covering, we know as the slime coat.  The Dermis lies under the Epidermis and many important functions happen there.


    The deeper place Dermis of the skin is made up of connective Fibroblasts, Collagen and blood vessels. The scales of a fish lie in pockets in the Dermis and come out of the connective tissue. Scales do not stick out of a fish but are covered by the Epithelial layer. The scales overlap and so form a protective flexible armor capable of withstanding blows and bumping. There are two main types of scales, both are round, but in one the edges are serrated and the other are completely smooth. In the Mailed Catfish the scales are replaced by bony plates. In some other species there are no scales at all.

Pigment (color) Cells

    The many pretty colors and patterns seen in fish are produced by cells in the Dermis. The cells are named for the pigment they contain.

  1. Melanophores Brownish-Black pigment called Melanin.

  2. Erythrophores Red pigment.

  3. Xanthophores Yellow pigment.

  4. Iridophores Contain crystals which refract and reflect light, given many fish their metallic look.

  5. Fish can change color from one moment to the next. This is caused by the movement of Melanin grains within each cell. When dispersed, they Absorb more light and the area of the fish darkens. when tightened the fish goes pale.


    Respiration is carried out by means of gills located under the gill covers. The walls of the Pharynx is perforated by five slit-like openings. The tissue between the slits is called the Gill arch, so on each side of the fish there are five Gill Slits and Four Gill Arches. On the Gill Arches are mounted the actual Gills; a delicate system of blood vessels covered by a very thin Epithelium through which the gaseous exchange takes place.

Lateral Line

    The sixth sense of a fish.  The lateral line consists of a series of scales, each modified by a pore, which connects with a system of canals containing sensory cells and nerve fibers. It runs in a semi line from the gills to the tail fin. It can be easily seen in fish as a band of darker looking scales running along the side. The lateral line has shown to be a very important sensory organ in fish. It can detect minute electrical currents in the aquarium water. It can also function as a kind of echo location process that helps the fish identify its surroundings.

Other Senses in Fish

    Fish have the five senses man has, as well as the Lateral line, which is their sixth. In fish, the importance of each sense is different than in us humans. I will briefly describe them here.

  1. Sight Vision underwater poses many special problems. The most significant is the small amount of light available in all but the uppermost layers of water. Vision under water is limited to a few yards at best and fish do not use this as one of their primary senses.

  2. Smell In most fish the sense of smell is highly developed and is probably used more in the location of food than sight.

  3. Hearing It has been shown that fish can hear, but its full function is still not understood.

  4. Taste Taste buds in fish are located in the mouth and also in the skin covering the head, body fins, barbels, and lips. Its entirely probable that fish can taste food well before it enters their mouth.

  5. Touch Fish also have elevated tactile sense, and is shown none better than in certain catfish who use their barbels as extensions of their body.

Home ] Aquarium Setup ] Aquarium Maintenance ] Aquarium Filtration ] Aquarium Lighting ] Tropical Fish Disease ] Photo Gallery ] Reef Aquaria ] The Natural Aquarium ] [ Fish Anatomy ] Compatibility ] Testing the Water ] The Nitrogen Cycle ] Cichlids ] Bettas ] Ethics ] Brian's Links ] Art of Aquarium Photography ] Consultation ] FAQ's ] Measurement Conversion ] Contact Us! ] Russia 2000 ] About Us ]

Copyright 2010 VersAquatics.  All Rights Reserved.   Created and Maintained by [Webmaster BJS] VersAquatics